§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I beg to move, in page 12, line 17, column 1, to leave out:not being a married woman".I cannot but regret that a series of Amendments—for I assume that we shall be taking together the remaining Amendments to Schedule 4 which raise the same point—which raise a question of such social importance should, owing to the structure of the Bill, come so late in our proceedings.
We have heard a good deal during the course of these debates about what is called the contributory principle. I have been trying to find out what it is. One version of it is perfectly clear. The Treasury version is that the Treasury contributes as little as possible and everybody else as much as possible. It did not require this Bill to let us know that. Another version is that the contributory principle is satisfied if those of the present generation make a handsome contribution to ensure benefits to those of the next generation. That is, no doubt, a contribution by one person and a benefit by another. Then again, is it possible that it could be, "He who contributes shall get back what he contributes with certain additions"?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
We are dealing with that, and the hon. and learned Member suggested that it would be convenient to discuss the whole of the Amendments to this Schedule at the same time.
§ Mr. Mitchison
The last suggestion was that the contributory principle was satisfied if you get your money back and something more. The one thing that is clear on the finances of the Bill is that that is not the contributory principle for the purposes of the Bill.
I have been considering a reasonable principle, I suggest to the Committee that there is an old Socialist maxim, which might even commend itself to 1688 some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the best form of contributory principle is "From each according to his ability, and to each according to his need." I need not remind the learned hon. Members of this House that in the Interpretation Act "his" includes "her." That is what we are now considering.
We are considering one exceptional case of the married woman. I say "exceptional" advisedly. We are considering it in relation to two forms of benefit. One is sickness benefit, and the other is unemployment benefit. A man who pays a higher contribution than a woman, and an unmarried woman who pays the same contribution as a married woman, are both treated as ordinary contributors. The exceptional contributor, when we come to purposes of benefit, is the married woman.
There are quite a number of provisions relating specially to her with the object of her getting less in certain circumstances than either the man or the unmarried woman would get. Look at the importance of leaflet No. 1. It deals with "Married Women in National Insurance." The words that are printed in heavy type on the front of the leaflet are:On marriage a woman may choose either to continue paying contributions … or to stop paying contributions and rely on her husband's insurance.In the latter case, which is not the case with which we are now dealing, she gets a smaller range of benefit.
Suppose that she makes her choice, then, if she turns to Part Two, she will find out how her choice affects her rate of benefit. I have looked carefully through the leaflet. It is very clear. Like so many Government leaflets, it begins to get chatty towards the end. It is all in the third person until we get to a footnote and then that which has previously been "she" becomes "you." Oddly enough, when we get to a rather stodgy looking form at the end, called "married woman's election" the chatty principle is continued and we deal again with "you."
The one thing that the married woman is not told is, "if you make your choice to pay contributions—the same contributions as your husband James or your 1689 daughter Jane—and then fall sick or are unemployed you will get less than either James or Jane."
§ Mr. S. Silverman
The hon. and learned Gentleman says that the Government leaflet does not tell the married woman that, but I think he is mistaken in thinking that the married woman has never been told. I seem to remember doing my best to tell her in 1946—without much support.
§ Mr. Mitchison
We all know that my hon. Friend has quite exceptional facilities for making his voice heard, but it is just possible that, on that occasion, some married women failed to hear him.
§ Mr. Silverman
It is, indeed, not merely possible but extremely probable. I think the reason is that on that occasion my hon. and learned Friend did not add his voice to mine, as he is doing now.
§ Mr. Mitchison
At any rate, the hon. Member and I are agreed that it is a matter to which proper publicity should be given.
I can assure hon. Members—although I think that they know it for themselves—that a great many married women do not realise this until the event. They then come to their Member and ask, "Is it fair that I, who paid the same contribution as my husband or my daughter, should not get the same benefit?" I have never been able to find the answer to that. I do not know what the answer is. If it is said to me, "Well, you put it in in 1946," I think I would reply that I am a firm believer in progress in any movement, and that if progress should be applied in any field of our affairs it is particularly necessary in regard to married women.
It is not so very long ago that married women could not have property of their own. The next stage was that this House passed a Resolution that women should have equal pay. It has never been implemented, but if it were possible to implement it both as regards women in public service and women in other employment, then, indeed, there would be a case for saying that they ought to pay the same contributions. So long as they are, in fact, getting less than men—and that, broadly speaking, is the case—it is only right, following the maxim I quoted at the beginning, that, according to their 1690 ability, they should pay a smaller contribution.
If this Committee, or the House, wants to equalise the contributions, or says that they should be equalised, it cannot, in common justice, do so until the principle of equal pay is put into effect not only in the public service but by employers. I therefore think that, as regards married women, the first half of my maxim satisfactorily explains the difference between the two contributions.
There is another point. Nowadays, of course, married women are in practically every trade. If one goes to the north of England—and a right hon. Gentleman who sits even for a prosperous part of Leeds must be very well aware of this—one will find that the work married women are doing is quite essential to most—I do not say all—of the North Country industries. In my own Midland division, about half of the employees in the boot and shoe trade are women—and very largely married women. I doubt whether in those industries, any more than in our ordinary life, men and women could get along without the assistance of the one by the other. If that is the position, what is the real justification for this difference in benefit?
What we are talking about at the moment is unemployment benefit and sickness benefit. In the Report on the first quinquennial review I find two things, one of which is so well known that I do not need the Report to support me in quoting it. It is that the unemployment experience has been better than was expected at the time when the Act was originally introduced. We may, therefore, say, if we are to treat unemployment separately, that there is a bit to spare there.
Next we come to sickness, and again the sickness experience has been considerably better than was expected. In paragraph 19 we find, by reference to Table M in an appendix at the end of the Report, what one would have expected, namely, that though the general sickness experience has been better than expected, it is the married women who stand most in need of sickness benefit and who draw it the most often. After all, one does not need a Report by the Government Actuary on the first quinquennial review to tell one that.
1691 A married woman who goes to work nowadays does not thereby acquit herself of her duties as the person upon whom the whole household turns. The man may be the head of it. The queen and usually the king-pin—or the queen-pin, perhaps—is the married woman. She does not lose those responsibilities because she goes to work. The reason for this high sickness experience is simply that in the North of England and for many reasons in many industries, it is sometimes worth-while and sometimes absolutely necessary that the married woman should go to work too, and only too often she breaks her back by trying to do too much at home and combining it with doing industrial work at the same time. That is the reason, we all know, for what appears in Table M at the end of the Report.
Here we are in this Committee, representing this country and the men and women in it. We have been talking about finance all day until our heads reel. Let us think about social justice. Is there any real argument whatever for giving a married woman who is paying contributions in her own right a smaller benefit than her husband or unmarried daughter? If there is, I say in advance that I decline to recognise it, and I believe it to be fallacious without knowing what it is going to be. It seems to me so absolutely across every principle of decency and fairness in our common life that it must be wrong. On the other hand, I shall not be surprised if it is produced.
Married women have had to struggle in this country for their rights for a long time. They have not got them yet. This is one case where that could be put right. I am not so blind to realities as to suppose that right hon. and hon. Members opposite, representing as they do the party that conserves what is, are going to accept these Amendments and do the measure of social justice that they entail. I do not think they will. I earnestly hope that they will at least offer enough lip service to the principles I have been putting forward to enable us to say on a future occasion, "You are contradicting what you said when we talked about married women many years ago."
To some of them, I would say I hope they will go beyond that. I hope they 1692 will be able for once to rise to the occasion and say, "We know this would be the right thing to do, but it cannot be done in this Bill." How many Measures there are in which right, for some sufficient reason, often for a Treasury reason, cannot be done! Too many. We might at least tonight, even if the Government will not accept the Amendment, unite in saying that it would be right to do this and that it must be done; and we might say that we will give more immediacy and efficiency to those good wishes and good statements than have as yet been given to similar statements and resolutions about equal pay.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)
May I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) on making what will be regarded as probably one of the best contributions in the Committee to the cause of women, and particularly of married women? I suppose that. as a married woman who is insured under the National Insurance Act, I ought to declare my interest, but I am sure that the Committee will not suspect that I am supporting the Amendment because of that interest. Indeed, we are not asking for privileges for married women. We are simply asking that a married woman who works outside the home should be treated equitably and in a way which is equivalent in terms of financial help under the scheme to that given to a married man or a bachelor, bearing in mind that the bachelor has no financial responsibility for children, for example, and to the single woman.
I have listened to the Minister, it seems, for so many days that I can almost anticipate his objections to the Amendment. May I anticipate what he will say? He will say that he refuses to accept the Amendment—because I am not optimistic enough to believe that he will accept it.
§ Dr. Summerskill
And he will say that he is following precedent or that if he accepted the Amendment he would be injecting one more anomaly into the National Insurance Act.
May I, first, deal with the question of precedent? I plead guilty to the fact that when I was in his position I did not 1693 amend the Act in the way in which I am asking that it should be amended now. What guided me then? We had before us certain assumptions which have been mentioned in the House before—assumptions which guided the framing of the Act. One assumption was that there would be 8 per cent. unemployment, and another was that the morbidity and mortality rate in the country could be related to the 1942–43 figures. All of these persuaded me that the size of the Fund would be limited and the number of people who would dip into it would be rather large. But all those assumptions proved fallacious.
I also had another category of workers in mind—the spinsters. I felt that at any rate for a number of years it was only fair that the married woman, who in times of sickness had a home to go to which was financed by her husband, should have a sickness benefit which was smaller than that of her husband and than that of the spinster. As we all know, the spinster's lot is entirely different. Often spinsters come to us, as Members of Parliament, and put their case. Often I have felt it was a poignant case. When sick and in need, not only is a spinster denied financial help, but she has to depend upon herself to see that the rent is paid and that all current expenses are met.
In the light of all that, I felt that for the time being the married woman should receive a benefit which was smaller. Therefore, the Minister may say that he is following precedent. That is very flattering to us, but why should he always say that he is following precedent? We do not pretend to be omnipotent nor to have the final answer to all these problems, but at the end of every debate the Minister says, "I am following your lead." We will forgive him tonight if he does not follow us but decides to take his own line and has the courage to say, "here is a case here and I will defy my advisers behind the scenes." He has not done that yet.
May I remind the Minister that this is the last Amendment. One appeal after another has been put to him on all the other Amendments, and he has been completely pachydermata. Not only is he pachydermata and has an indurated heart, but he also has an indurated skin. 1694 We have been absolutely unable to penetrate his skin in any way. This is his last chance to say that he can take the initiative as a Minister. He can take the initiative, he can have the moral courage to say, "This is right and I am going to do it." There is no finer quality in the world than moral courage.
If he follows precedent the Minister may say that this would be injecting an anomaly, but that is one thing we are not doing tonight. All we are asking him to do tonight is to remove an anomaly, to remove a great anomaly. We have heard him and his hon. Friends talk on many occasions about tidying up the legislation. This is an excellent opportunity for him to tidy it up and to treat workers equally.
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the position of the married woman? Why has society accepted this situation? It is accepted in the same way as unequal pay is accepted. Although not often expressed, in the minds of many people, men and women, is the feeling that two wages should not go into one home. The professions are excepted, this House is excepted, but in the homes of the workers there is a feeling that one wage is enough. That derives from the time of widespread unemployment in the days of Tory misrule, but today things have changed. There is full employment—we established that precedent also.
In many areas more workers are wanted and the married woman is coming into her own as a worker. Her position as a worker should be equated with all other workers. She has her husband helping to finance her home, but the bachelor who lives with his sisters is subsidised and the spinster, living with her mother and father, is very often subsidised also. Why should the married woman, as a worker, be singled out for this discrimination?
It has not been said before—perhaps we are only analysing the situation for the first time—but she is the only contributor to the scheme who is subject to a means test. No other worker is subject to a means test, but the married woman is, as her benefit depends upon her means. If it could be argued that the married woman was financially much better off than other workers, emotionally we might accept the case, but what is 1695 the position? Last night we discussed widows and hon. Members opposite agreed that most widows who work are unskilled and are in low paid jobs. That goes for a large number of married women also. They go out of their homes, they are accustomed to domestic work, but for the most part—the exception, of course, is Lancashire—they are unskilled in other jobs and they are underpaid. So again we are talking about a category of workers who are certainly not financially very well off.
We have talked about making contributions actuarially sound. Here, again, is an opportunity when we should relate benefits to the actuarial contribution of the married woman. I should like the Minister to look at the position in that way. He may be able to prove to me that actuarially the position of the married woman is not sound, but I should like to know exactly what the case is.
It is very easy to find an argument to support custom. The married woman is in this position probably because custom and prejudice have determined it. In thinking of these things it is easy to be emotional, and very difficult, even in the House of Commons, for reason to prevail when we are discussing the relationship of the sexes. No doubt that is why the numbers are so disproportionate in the House now, because reason very rarely prevails in these matters. I therefore ask the Minister tonight to dismiss custom and prejudice from his mind and to approach the subject in a purely rational manner.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
One of the ironies of public life that might make people cynical if they were not naturally immune from cynicism is to observe how simple moral truths are more easily perceived by people who have not the opportunity of operating them than by those who, without being omnipotent, at any rate have complete Parliamentary power to do whatever they like.
Another irony—I think we have all discovered it—is the ease with which one is able to persuade one's former colleagues of things of which one so lamentably failed to convince them while they were colleagues. I find myself tonight in complete and enthusiastic agreement with both my hon. and learned 1696 Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who moved the Amendment, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), who has just spoken, and especially with one thing which she said that I was delighted to hear.
Nothing is more encouraging to a humble back bencher than to hear a distinguished Front Bencher urging upon the other side of the Committee, probably believing that the principle is of universal application, that it is a good thing in politics to say, "This is morally right, and I am going to do it." I believe that.
§ Mr. Silverman
Therefore, since we both now believe it, it may be that the usual channels, which have become a little diverted in recent weeks, will perhaps in future flow in smoother and more continuous channels.
One of my difficulties tonight, of course, is that since the usual channels do not reach me I am left a little in doubt as to how far the conversion has gone. For instance, one can believe a thing sufficiently to persuade oneself to try to induce somebody to do it for oneself. Or one can believe a thing with an even greater degree of sincerity—perhaps not at the same time—and do it oneself when one has the power.
There is a third position, and it is on that third possibility that I should like some information, if I may have it. There is a position in between, where one no longer has the power to do it for oneself but one certainly has the power to persuade somebody else to do it, and when one also has the power. knowing that the thing is morally right, to vote for it.
I should very much like to know whether it is the intention of my right hon. and hon. Friends, who have said without equivocation of any kind what they want the Government to do, to divide the Committee upon it; because in case they are hesitating about it themselves I should like to assure them right away that I have no doubt or hesitation about it at all.
I thought this thing was right in 1946. I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is easier in 1954 to do this right thing than it may have been in 1946. I concede that at once. How far the difference goes may be another matter, and I 1697 hope to examine it in a moment, but it is certainly true, as she said, that it may be easier to do the right thing eight years afterwards, when the assumptions on which one based one's case have been tested, when one knows that some of the demands upon the funds have not been made and will not be made, when one knows the surpluses at one's disposal and the contributions that were collected on the basis that one might have to pay benefits at a rate which has not had to be paid.
I concede that at once. However, what is quite clear is that we are all as one, at any rate on this side of the Committee, in thinking that it is the right thing to do in 1954, and that we can do it in 1954. Therefore, it seems that there is no reason why we should not express that view in the Division Lobby—unless there has been equal conversion upon the other side. That we shall know in another two hours.
However doubtful it was in 1946, it is now clear and we know that there has not been in the period since then and now the 8 per cent. unemployment, and that, undoubtedly, makes a difference to the finance, but although it makes a difference to the finance it make no difference to the principle. None at all. If it is wrong now to take equal contributions for unequal benefits it was wrong in 1946, too, and there is no justification in principle for saying, as is said now in defence of what was done or what was not done in 1946, that we did not know what the financial strain upon the Fund would be and that, therefore, we expected married women to bear an illegitimate portion of such burden as there might be.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) ought not to have done it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West ought not to have acquiesced in it, nor ought my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering. He was not bound by any doctrine of collective responsibility of Cabinet or Government. There was nothing to prevent his saying in 1946 what he said tonight.
What is the intention of the Government about this? No one has been clearer throughout these debates—two days on Second Reading and two days in Committee—and no one has been more insistent than the Government upon the 1698 contractual principle, upon the insurance basis, upon relating contributions to benefits. I do not think that one can do that altogether. Certainly, in the case of old-age pensions I do not see how it is possible to make the thing actuarially watertight over very long periods, but surely there is no justification for charging people exactly the same contribution where one knows from the start, and they know from the start, that they will not receive the same benefit for their contribution as other people receive for the same contribution.
On an actuarial basis how can one defend that discrimination? On a contractual basis how can one defend it? By reference to a contributory principle how can one defend it? The Government may say, as was forecast a little while ago, "You did it before us and so we are going on doing it now." My right hon. Friends, between 1945 and 1950, made a number of mistakes, as I am sure they would be the first to admit. They did not only make mistakes. They were, by and large, the best Government the country has ever had. They came to power inheriting a bankrupt country.
That phrase is not mine, it is the Prime Minister's. They inherited power at the end of a war which, apart from other things, was the most expensive war in history. Such investments as we had abroad had been spent in the services of the war, our export trade had been completely ruined, our factories were badly equipped, and many of them had been bombed and blitzed.
My right hon. Friends had to begin from scratch on a bankrupt country in a virtually bankrupt world, and they built up in those circumstances what we are debating tonight—the best comprehensive system of social insurance that this or any other country has ever had.
§ Mr. Silverman
If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, now that they sit in the seats of the mighty, feel that they want to follow precedents set by the Labour Government between 1945 and 1950, let them follow precedents that were right and not those that were wrong.
If the Minister can tonight defend discrimination against married women 1699 on principle, that is another matter. We will listen to the argument with care and attention. If there is in any way any principle by which it can be right to take from married women the same contribution as is taken from other people and give in return less than we give to other people, let us hear the argument.
If the Government cannot do that, it is no defence for them to say, "This thing is wrong, it was always wrong, it cannot be defended, but we are going to do it because you did it in 1946. We are following your example." That would be an intolerable position for any Government to occupy except on the usual basis that a Tory Government, when they give any social benefits, give as little as they can and get back in contributions as much as they can.
Married women are, on the whole, less politically organised than other people, and the Government can get away with taking more contributions from them and giving back less in benefits than they can risk with other people who are a greater organised force. Unless they are able to come forward with some defence in principle of this shockingly mean discrimination against people who find it difficult to defend themselves, the Government should not seek to get away on the basis that they are only following the mistakes of their predecessors.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)
The speech to which we have just listened has left me in some confusion. Part of it seemed to be designed for the purpose of b getting, the Conservative Whip issued to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). l was almost at the stage of promising after this debate to go and see the Patronage Secretary with a view to getting the hon. Gentleman invited to the meeting of the 1922 Committee on Thursday next. The second half of the speech, I suppose, was designed to get the hon. Member the Labour Whip again.
§ Mr. Silverman
Would the hon. Gentleman do me the favour of believing or saying, because I am sure he already believes it, that in both parts of my speech, if it was divisible at all, I was saying exactly what I believed, which has become with me a rather bad habit.
§ Mr. Harris
I have no doubt of that at all, and, in fact, I was ready to support in the main in what he was trying to say.
There are many aspects still of our National Insurance Scheme which I believe need cleaning up, if I may use that phrase. There are many things with which we are dissatisfied, many aspects of the Scheme which, if we were really logical, would prevent us calling it an Insurance Scheme at all, because in certain respects if similar things were tried out by any private enterprise insurance company they would bring down the wrath of the country on it and lose it all its customers. I do not need to go into the merits of that now, but such things as only allowing old-age pensioners to earn £2 a week before starting to deduct that from their old-age pension is—
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I wonder if the hon. Gentleman is aware that some Tory local authorities in days gone by used to deduct the 10s. pension from an old man's dole?
§ Mr. Harris
I have no doubt about it, and I do not support it. I would condemn that as much as the old people.
§ Mr. Harris
There are other anomalies in the National Insurance Scheme. I always felt that if a contributor has not contributed enough contributions to get benefits, when he dies his representatives ought to have the contributions returned to them. Those are the sort of anomalies which want to be cleared up. Another is the one we are discussing tonight, the unequal treatment of married women. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne was making a rather soap-box point when he said that the reason the Government are doing this to married women is that they are not organised in the way workers and other people are.
§ Mr. Silverman
I only said that if there was a better reason, no doubt the hon. Gentleman would give it.
§ Mr. Harris
I would remind the hon. Gentleman that there is no more powerful political group in this country than the married women.
§ Mr. Harris
Oh, yes. The Housewives League—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I know this is a sore point with 1701 the Labour Party, but the Conservative Party draws a great deal of its support from the married women of this country. If they were being treated so badly, we should not get as many votes as we do. The married women of this country have fared very well under a Conservative Government. The West Derby result, and other results are good enough to prove that.
§ Mr. Silvermanrose—
§ The Chairman
This is a very narrow Amendment. The hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) is going very wide of it.
§ Mr. Harris
Sir Charles, we are discussing married women, and the point has been made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman)—
§ Mr. Harris
I still say, Sir Charles, that the married women of this country are treated well by the Conservative Party, by and large, but this is one of many respects in which I think we can treat them better. If we do, the net result will be that even more of them will vote Conservative. I ask the Minister to give this matter careful consideration. I do not suppose that he will be able to do anything in this Bill—
§ Mr. Harris
—at this particular stage. If he can, so much the better. If he cannot, I would ask him to bear this point in mind, together with the three anomalies I have mentioned, with a view to introducing a Bill after the next election when, of course, the Conservative Party will still be on this side of the House, with a view to clearing up some of these points which it is very necessary to do.
§ Mr. Silverman
Sir Charles, I would like to put a question to the hon. Gentleman before he concludes his speech.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
As one of the much discussed married women, I am very pleased indeed to find that married women, who simply cannot be organised, have tonight—indeed, I think always have had—very strong support from the men in this House. Whilst I do not want to impugn anyone for this unfair discrimination, I am painfully aware that it is not exactly the prerogative of the other side; it goes back a long way, indeed I think it goes hack to the Blanesburgh Report.
I think, however, that times are changing, and that this unfair discrimination should cease. I noticed during the war, when married women were being persuaded to leave their homes and go out and help in the war effort, that the Chancellor arranged for a special married women's allowance for Income Tax of £112. Today it is £120, but it is still much less than the initial allowance which a man gets, and there is this further penalty, that her earnings are added to those of her husband, and so they both come into the higher rates of tax much more quickly. In addition to that unfair discrimination we have this, that when she is unemployed she must receive less than the unmarried girl, she must receive less than a woman who has left her husband, she must receive less than the woman whose husband has deserted her.
We are in the very queer position that the Government are inciting women to remain single because, by remaining single, they will have far better remuneration, will be treated in a much better way for Income Tax purposes and will be far better off if they happen to be unemployed or sick. So the call goes out today "Girls, remain single!" Perhaps some of them would do much better to remain single than to link themselves up with some of the husbands that they get, but in this year 1954 the Government go even further and incite women to leave their husbands. The Government say to the woman that she will get a higher benefit only if she is not residing with her husband.
Is the right hon. Gentleman actually taking up this position on the eve of 1703 Christmas? Is he appearing as an un-Santa Claus and saying to the women in their homes, "You know, you would be far better off if you left. You would get 10s. a week more in sickness or unemployment benefit."
§ Mr. Mitchison
That does not quite follow. If a woman leaves her husband and the husband makes a contribution to her maintenance which does not amount to 10s., she will be worse off.
§ Mrs. Mann
The husband will probably not make a contribution at all. He will say, "You have made your bed, and now you must lie on it."
What we are apparently concerned about in the Schedule is the establishment of the male as the dominant sex. It is even worse than that. The Minister even incites a man to leave his wife. He says, "If you leave your wife, she will get a larger allowance when she is unemployed. If you remain with your wife and she puts up with your frills, fads and fancies and runs after you from morning till night, she will get 10s. less. If you leave her, we will give her 10s. more." It has all become like a fantasy of the Crazy Gang. It is time some attention was given to the matter and the status of the married woman raised at least to that of the man.
§ Mr. Marples
The mistake which the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has just made by clapping his hands when his hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) concluded—
§ Mr. Marples
—may well be forgiven because of the hon. Lady's excellent speech. She nearly always impresses the House by the force and sincerity of her contributions. On this occasions she has given us a lot to think about in many ways.
It has fallen to my lot to reply to this debate and I am in somewhat unfortunate circumstances. We have had five speakers so far; three were married men, two were married women. I do not have the advantage or assistance of a wife.
§ 10.15 p.m.1704
§ Mr. Marples
I shall struggle with the questions of fact, in spite of the biological difficulties under which I suffer.
§ Dr. Summerskill
May I just protect the hon. Member's reputation in HANSARD and ask him to change biological to physiological?
§ Mr. Marples
I should welcome a direction from the right hon. Lady, because no doubt her experiences are more varied and extensive than mine.
I should like to deal with some of the contributions made in the earlier part of the debate. The references made by the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie are obviously dangerous ground for me. She said that girls would remain single because the Government was inciting them so to do; that married women would leave their husbands, again because the wicked Tory Government were responsible, and men would leave their wives and there was something about making a bed over Christmas which I could not follow.
Therefore I am going on to safer ground, because one is always safer dealing with points raised by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). He has at least the merit of being consistent. I remember that in 1946 he bitterly attacked the Government of the day, which was his own Government—he then had the advantage of having the Whip—and the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) called in as reinforcement the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison).
I well remember that, because I had to wait five hours for my Amendment to the Financial Resolution because of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. I remember the remark I made on that occasion when he bitterly attacked the Government of the day—
§ Mr. Marples
—I substitute the word "effectively" for "bitterly" — he attacked them in a most effective speech. He said that in Opposition they said that they would do something and in Government they failed to do it.
1705 I remember my remark on that, because it is about the only bright remark I have ever made. I said that the real trouble with hon. Gentlemen was that they had never yet succeeded in reconciling the soap box with the Despatch Box. I waited for five hours and I would say to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne that the assumptions on which he based his speech in 1946 were well known in 1951.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
If they were well known in 1951, they were well known in 1946 and, presumably, well known to hon. Gentlemen. May I ask how the hon. Member behaved on that occasion? Did he support me in speech or in the Division Lobby?
§ Mr. Marples
For once the hon. Gentleman has made a mistake in an interruption. What was known in 1951 was not necessarily known in 1946, five years before.
§ Mr. Marples
It was not necessarily a fact. That was the hon. Gentleman's opinion.
I turn to the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill). She was extremely frank. She said, "I plead guilty" and she changed her mind—something which I am told is not unknown with both sexes. She said that emotion entered into the matter and she could not understand why it should. I can tell her that a very great Conservative once said that this country is not governed by logic but by Parliament and that Parliament is frequently moved by emotion and not necessarily by logic. Perhaps in the affairs of human beings it is better that way in the long run.
The right hon. Lady said that she had changed her mind, but I must say that when I saw her name on the Paper in support of the Amendment I was a little surprised. I thought that I would do a little research into the line which she had taken as Minister. She has the advantage of being the only married woman ever to be in charge of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance.
§ Mr. Houghton
May I point out that my right hon. Friend's name is. not down in support of the Amendment?
§ Mr. Marples
I am most grateful to be allowed to 'be right for once, and I thank the hon. Gentleman.
In 1950 when the right hon. Lady was in charge—I make this comment in no bitter way—she replied, or got her private Secretary to reply, to the Organising Secretary of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. She wrote on 19th July, or her private secretary did, in terms which were quite categorical. This is a most remarkable change of front now that she is in opposition.
On 19th July, six weeks after she received their letter, she replied. This was not a hasty reply or an answer to a supplementary question or to an interruption in debate. It was a considered reply. She, or her private secretary, said:Dr. Summerskill feels that there is not much that can be added to the arguments in that Report …That is the Beveridge Report. She added that the Beveridge Report laid down why married women were treated differently, and she said:As the Beveridge Report points out, the needs of the gainfully occupied housewife who herself becomes unemployed or al, are in general less than those of a single woman.… The principle underlying the differential rate of benefit for the married woman is carried to its logical conclusion in the provision of the full rate of benefit to those married women who are responsible for their own maintenance.Clearly, if she has changed her mind now, it is a complete about turn. I do not know whether she intends to vote for the Amendment, but I should think that she would not do that.
I come to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). He objected in principle. I might ask whether he objected in 1946 as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne did. I do not know, but I wonder whether he raised his voice or registered his vote, because the principle has not changed since.
He made one point of fact. I am not sure that I heard him aright, but if I did, he said that men and women pay the same contribution and get the same benefit. In fact they do not. Men will be 1707 paying 6s. 4d. a week and women will be paying 5s. 3d. a week. With the customary chivalry with which men treat, women, the men pay more. Therefore the only difference arises between the married woman and the spinster. They both pay the same rates and both draw different benefits but, fortunately, the difference is not between men and women but between spinsters and married women. I think that I am right in that.
§ Mr. Mitchison
May I first assure the Parliamentary Secretary that I, at any rate, am not too old to learn? Secondly, I did use the words to which he referred. I hope that they were clear in the context, because I devoted a considerable part of my speech to dealing with the fact that the married woman does pay a smaller contribution, as does the unmarried woman.
§ Mr. Marples
I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman.
He made the further point that, on entering the Scheme married women did not really know what benefits they would draw, or that they would draw reduced benefits. Paragraph 15 of the leaflet to which he referred gives brief information about what a married woman gets if she enters, and what she cannot get if she does not enter. I think the leaflet is clear on that, but, if it is not, I promise that, when the pamphlets are reissued when this Measure is passed, I will see that the point is brought out.
The main reasons for the discrimination, as it has been called, are these. The first is that husband and wife are, ordinarily, considered as a team. During the wife's unemployment or sickness they are not without earnings. The benefits need not, therefore, be such as to meet all the needs of the wife. The Amendment ignores the husband's duty to provide for his wife. Because of the husband's earnings, the argument that, when earnings cease, there should be one universal rate of benefit, regardless of individual circumstances, cannot really be applied to married women.
The second reason against the acceptance of the Amendment is that the married woman may choose not to pay the contribution; she can opt out of the Scheme and not pay the contribution or draw the benefit. If she chooses to pay 1708 it is likely to be, if I may say so with respect, an option against the Fund. By that I mean that she will only pay if she thinks that she will be able to get as much, or more, from the Fund as she puts in. That is an ordinary human reaction.
A single woman cannot so choose. She must be in. That is the difference between the two. Just over a quarter of married women over 25 are employed, and considerably more than half of them opt out of the Scheme. Compared with the total of married women in the country there are not very many in the Scheme. The hon. and learned Member is right. but we must get this in its right perspective.
§ Mr. Marples
In fairness to the spinsters—from whom I have received about three green cards today—I must say that I cannot agree that most single women marry in the end. I have had considerable experience of certain organisations which are very tenacious indeed with regard to the spinsters' particular interests.
A universal rate for women—because, generally speaking, the contributions of women are considered as a separate fund and the benefits to women are paid out of it—would involve increasing the compulsory rate of contribution for the single woman, in order to help the married woman who already has the right not to pay. The increased contribution which this Amendment would call for would be a total of 5½d. a week divided between employer and employee with regard to class I women, and 3d. a week for class II women. This would, therefore, be an expensive Amendment.
Another point is that, if the married woman was given the same rate, consideration would necessarily have to be given to other matters, as it would alter the existing balance of the Scheme. First of all, consideration would have to be given to whether the married women should have the right of option. Secondly, consideration would necessarily have to 1709 be given to the conditions of payment, and I am certain that no hon. Member would like to return to the old married women's Anomalies Regulations. At any rate, consideration must be given to the conditions if we are to alter the rate.
This Bill deals with rates and not conditions. The balance of the Scheme ought not to be altered lightly without a thorough investigation of the facts, and I do not think that in this Measure we ought to touch the structure of the Scheme; we should deal only with the rates. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West
§ and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering will not press this Amendment to a Division. We have had a most interesting, stimulating and jovial debate, but after having heard the figures which I have given, I hope the Committee will think it wiser not to divide. I hope, also, that the right hon. Lady and the hon. and learned Gentleman will withdraw the Amendment.
Question put, That the words "not being a married woman" stand part of the Schedule:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 246, Noes 10.1711
|Division No. 9]||AYES||[10.32 p.m.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Donner, Sir P. W.||Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Doughty, C. J. A.||Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Drayson, G. B.||Iremonger, T. L.|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Kerby, Capt. H. B.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Duthie, W. S.||Lambton, Viscount|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Langford-Holt, J. A.|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Leather, E. H. C.|
|Armstrong, C. W||Errington, Sir Erie||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M||Erroll, F. J.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)|
|Foll, A.||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Finlay, Graeme||Lindsay, Martin|
|Barber, Anthony||Fisher, Nigel||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwym (Wirral)|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Fort, R.||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Foster, John||Longden, Gilbert|
|Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. W.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. O. (Pollok)||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Bennett, William (Woodside)||Gridley, Sir Arnold||Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G|
|Bishop, F. P.||Gammans, L. D.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Garner-Evans, E. H.||McKibbin, A. J.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Glover, D.||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Goddber, J. B.||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Braine, B. R.||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Maclean, Fitzroy|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Gough, C. F. H.||Macleod, Rt. Hen. Iain (Enfield, W.)|
|Braithwaite, Sir Gurney||Gower, H. R.||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Graham, Sir Fergus||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)|
|Brooman-While, R. C.||Gridley, Sir Arnold||Maitland, Cmdr. J. F. W. (Honncastle)|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Grimond, J.||Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir Reginald|
|Bullard, D. G.||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Markham, Major Sir Frank|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Hare, Hon. J. H.||Marples, A. E.|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Haris, Reader (Heston)||Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Maude, Angus|
|Campbell, Sir David||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C|
|Carr, Robert||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Medlicott, Brig. F.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Mellor, Sir John|
|Channon, H.||Heath, Edward||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Henderson, John (Cathoart)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W)||Higgs, J. M. C.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.|
|Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Cole, Norman||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Neave, Airey|
|Colegate, W. A.||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Nicholls, Harmar|
|Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Hollis, M. C.||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Holt, A. F.||Nield, Basil (Chester)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Hope, Lord John||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Crouch, R. F.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finehley)||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Odey, G. W.|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Deedes, W. F.||Hulbert, Wing Cmdr. N. J.||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Hurd, A. R.||Osborne, C.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)||Page, R. G.|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)||Peake, Rt, Hon. D|
|Perkins, Sir Robert||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)||Turner, H. F. L|
|Peto, Brig. C. H. M||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)||Turton, R. H.|
|Peyton, J. W. W.||Snadden, W. McN.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Pitman, I. J.||Soames, Capt. C.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Pitt, Miss E. M.||Spearman, A. C. M.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K|
|Powell, J. Enoch||Speir, R. M.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Price, Henry (Lewisham, W)||Spens, Rt. Hon. Sir P. (Kensington, S.)||Wade, D. W.|
|Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Raikes, Sir Victor||Stevens, Geoffrey||Wakenfield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)|
|Ramsden, J. E.||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Redmayne, M.||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)||Wall, Major Patrick|
|Rees-Davies, W. R||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Renton, D. L. M.||Storey, S.||Waterhouse, Capt Rt. Hon. C|
|Ridsdale, J. E.||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)||Watkinson, H. A.|
|Roberts, Peter (Heeley)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminstor)|
|Robertson, Sir David||Summers, G. S.||Wellwood, W.|
|Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Roper, Sir Harold||Sutcliffe, Sir Harold||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Russell, R. S.||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.||Teeling, W.||Wills, G.|
|Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Schofield, Lt.-Col W||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Scott, R. Donald||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)||Woollam, John Victor|
|Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W)|
|Sharples, Maj. R. C.||Thornton-Kemsley, C N||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Shepherd, William||Tilney, John||Sir Cedric Drewe and Mr. Kaberry.|
|Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W)||Toutche, Sir Gordon|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Monslow, W.||Mr. Sydney Silverman and|
|Delargy, H. J.||Swingler, S. T.||Mr. Emrys Hughes.|
|Foot, M. M.||Yates, V. F.|
Question put and agreed to.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Fifth Schedule agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I am sure that the House does not want to hear a long speech from me in commendation of the Bill at this stage, but before we finally part with it I should like to express my personal thanks to my hon. Friends behind me who have given so much silent support to the Measure during the two days of the Committee stage, when we have been pressed to pass the Bill in the time allocated to it. I should also like to thank right hon. Gentlemen and the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) and hon. Members opposite for their help in getting the Bill through its various stages in the time available. I am particularly grateful to them in that they have not put down a great many Amendments which they might well have tabled to make it more difficult for me to get the Bill through in the time.
Lastly, I should like to say a word of thanks to what are called the "back room boys," the civil servants of my Department, who have worked so hard in the preparation of this Measure and the 1712 speed of whose work seems on occasion to have tested even the credulity of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Without their help and devoted labours, it would not have been possible to have prepared this Measure and to have presented it to the House for passage into law in the very short time in which that has been done. With those words, I commend for its Third Reading this great Measure of social reform.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for having recognised that at each stage we on this side have tried to do our best to expedite the passing of this Bill. Even before the Bill was framed, we did apply pressure. At the same time, we are sorry that he has not thought fit to accept even one of our Amendments. I thought that on the last Amendment he might have tried to make a really big gesture, but now the time has gone.
Nevertheless, despite our difficulties, we on this side of the House are pleased that a Measure—an interim Measure, we would call it—has been introduced to help towards improving the lot of the old people in the coming months. We are, however, sorry also that he has not thought fit to say we may have a larger Bill, which is now very much overdue. After Christmas, bearing in 1713 mind our representations, we hope that he will be able to say that he has decided to do something which will embody the Phillips' recommendations.
One last point. The Minister has told us that five months will pass before this legislation is translated into increased pensions. I would ask him to remember what we have said about bringing pressure to bear on the printers and all those concerned with producing the necessary documents. He can do that and, if he will, I am sure that the old-age pensioners of this country will feel extremely grateful.
§ 10.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
I regret that I cannot join entirely in this air of harmony which appears to pervade the House on this Third Reading. I do not know if this is a personal view, or whether I carry one or two of my hon. Friends with me in making it, but the way in which this Bill has been introduced and the treatment accorded to the old-age pensioners prompt me to ask why this House does not exercise its rights in examining how these pensions should be paid.
It is a disgraceful travesty of the procedure of this House, and I am sorry that there has been no protest from our own Front Bench.
§ Mr. Bing
This is one of the free Parliaments—and there are not many of them today—but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) would not have been Prime Minister had some of the hon. Members opposite been able to find someone more suitable to their own point of view. [An HON. MEMBER: "Send him a telegram."] Well, perhaps we might, and he could look among his files, but we are now discussing a very serious subject; nothing less than the whole shape of pensions for a period to come.
It is all very well for us to pass over this Measure in the way we have, but we are to some degree committed to a certain course. We have, in a rather curious way, got over the quinquennial review, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) has called attention to the fact that we have done that in an appendix to this Bill. But why are we asking the 1714 ordinary people to insure right hon. and hon. Members opposite against a degree of unemployment which they propose to-introduce? What we are really doing is shifting a burden from the shoulders of the Treasury on to the shoulders of the less well paid members of the community.
We rejoice that at last we are doing something to relieve the old-age pensioners. Perhaps we shall assist them to catch up with the price of tea—that great example of free enterprise.
§ Mr. Bing
And rents. At the same time as we rejoice, we should remember that we are shifting from the Treasury a burden which the Government themselves admit ought to be borne by the Treasury. I put down a Question a few days ago to discover exactly what would be the saving made by the Bill to National Assistance. It is £16 million. The Treasury contribution is £24 million. In other words, the Treasury is giving £8 million and is demanding from the poorest members of the community £77 million in contributions from working people. That is Conservative fair shares for all. How do the Government get that proposal through? By threatening us, saying that if we dare to expose it the old-age pensioners will not get their money. And the Third Reading of the Bill must take place at this time of night.
It is worth while considering who do pay for the old people, the sick, the unemployed. The people who pay are, first, the sick and the unemployed themselves, if they have some savings. It is from them the Government are going to take 1s. a week, from their savings which the Minister himself admits, in his White Paper, play such an important part in relieving the old-age pensioners, in relieving sickness and unemployment. Those are the people most in need, and they are being deprived of 1s. a week in extra contributions. If the poorest person can afford 1s. a week contribution to superannuation and insurance in private enterprise insurance, he will not be able to afford that 1s. a week now.
How are old people, unemployed people, sick people most maintained? They are most maintained—and it is quite right, and it is a credit to our country that it should be so—by their families and their relations. On whom, 1715 therefore, does the extra contribution most fall? It most falls on the family which is the worst off and which is maintaining among its units one old, one sick, one disabled person. Suppose there are three or four poorly paid persons docked each 1s. a week. The worst off class get only 2s. 6d. extra on top of their National Assistance supplement. Who are the people who are supported by National Assistance?
The sum which, up to now, was paid entirely by the Treasury is now transferred on to the shoulders, practically speaking, of the employee who contributes. I say "practically speaking" because there is a curious attitude of mind, exhibited by the Minister of Health when he spoke in our debates on the Bill. He said "Look, here is a firm. You must remember the firm is contributing for, say, 20 or 30 workmen, and so paying 20 or 30 contributions. Suppose it increases its capital, increases its machinery. It may need to employ only 10 or 15 people." Its expenses go down and it can make a bigger profit. In other words, 10 or 15 people are thrown out of work and the firm gets rid of 10 or 15 contributions to the cost of those people's unemployment. That is a system which the party opposite presents to us as the most logical and perfect of any system in the world.
We are presented with a scheme which is actuarially nonsense. [Interruption.] I am glad to see I am having some support from the opposite side of the House, because the first thing hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are asking the poorest people in the community to do is to underwrite their policy and to pay for 4 per cent. unemployment. Why? Because, presumably, the party opposite considers that this is the rate of unemployment there ought to be. What other justification is there for it?
Secondly, his contribution to the Treasury is trebled. Looking at it on an actuarial basis, the people who ought to pay more are those who are, on the whole better off, the self-employed class, because they, generally speaking, embrace the better-off people in society and they ought to pay proportionately a higher contribution because they do not have to pay unemployment insurance. I say this especially to the Chief Whip, who at 1716 present has the ear of the Minister, as he is one of the self-employed class. What happens? Instead of increasing actuarially their contribution, a great increase is made in the Treasury contribution. And the person who pays most, as has been said often in this debate, is the person who is the lowest-paid worker, somebody who can claim no Income Tax relief against his payment.
And this system is put forward to us at the very time when we ought not to have been passing an interim Measure. The time for that was a year ago. If we are to pass a final Measure, the time for it is now, when we have the quinquennial review. Yet, here we are, at this period of time, passing this Measure. It is a shabby and miserable Bill which has been passed through this House by blackmailing hon. Members by saying, "Unless you pass this Bill the old people will not get anything more in six months' time."
I cannot think why hon. Gentlemen opposite were not so certain of their majority that they would say, "We will plan nevertheless, and we will give Parliament an opportunity to discuss the matter." But the one thing that hon. Gentlemen opposite wanted was to prevent Parliamentary discussion of this matter in one way or another.
I do not think that anybody can regard the passing of this Measure, the method by which it is being passed, the way in which it is being hurried through, all the circumstances surrounding it, with anything other than a feeling that this is detracting from our Parliamentary methods. I regret the method by which it is being passed. I rejoice that at last the party opposite have been persuaded to do something for the old people by raising the benefits, but on balance I think it is a deplorable method by which to pass legislation, and I hope that this one protest will prevent an attempt to blackmail the House of Commons in a similar way again.
§ 10.58 p.m.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I have no intention at this time of night, or after the debates we have had, of subjecting the House once more to an analysis of the provisions of the Bill. I would not have thought it necessary to detain the House at all but for the extraordinary way in which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance pro- 1717 posed the Motion which the House is now considering.
If the right hon. Gentleman had recommended us to accept the Third Reading of this Measure as a belated, halting, shabby, mean but, nevertheless, small and genuine contribution to relieving the most pressing needs of old-age pensioners, I would have been content to let it go in this way, but when the Minister asks us to pass the Third Reading of this Bill on the basis that it is a great Measure of social reform, that is too much for him to expect to get away with in silence.
This is not a great Measure of social reform, and the right hon. Gentleman does not think that it is. It was humbug for him to say so. He did not mean a word of it. But it sounded a nice round phrase with which to round off these last two days of debate. So far from it being a great Measure of social reform, it only sets out to take the old-age pensioners back to where they were eight years ago—and that is the Tory Government's idea of a great social reform.
§ Mr. Silverman
No. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has not heard the Second Reading debate. He ought to be a much more loyal supporter of the Government, sitting where he does, than he appears to be, because the Government did not say a single word about taking the old-age pensioner back to where he was in 1951. That is not the ground on which they recommended the Measure to the House. They recommended it on the ground that it is a great Measure of social reform, conceived by a Tory Government in 1954, to put the old-age pensioners back to where the Labour Party left them in 1946. That is their idea of a great social advance.
The question we are considering is where the Tory Government, with this great Measure of social reform is leaving them now. It is leaving them where we left them in 1946. That is their idea of an advance in social reform. We do not regard that as an advance. In our simple way of looking at things, it is going back eight years. That is what they call an advance.
But how do they do it? In order to put the old-age pensioners back where 1718 they were in 1946, they begin by taking 1d. more a week out of every insured workman's contribution to the Industrial Injuries Act. Having done that, they add another 11d. to the Social Insurance Scheme contribution, on the basis that this will make it actuarially sound. Then in the debates they point out that it is not actuarially sound, that it never will be, and that it is not an insurance scheme at all. I do not want to prolong the debate. [An HON. MEMBER: "Go on, you like it."] We on this side all understand it, while some of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side are too stupid to understand it, and some are too hypocritical to admit what they understand. So it is really not worthwhile at this time of night to go on labouring the point.
The fact of the matter remains that at the end of the day we are beginning, over one small section of the field, and only over one small section in the case of the old-age pensioners, to get back to where we were in 1946, at the expense—be it noted—of the other contributors to the Fund, who bear the bulk of the financial burden imposed by the Measure. I do not propose to oppose the Third Reading. Perhaps some hon. and right hon. Members may be relieved to know that. Let it go. We cannot delay the old-age pension. We have to submit to this. There is nothing else we can do, because the old people really cannot wait, but, if we are submitting to blackmail, let us, at any rate, not submit to hypocrisy and humbug, and let us not pretend that this is a great Measure of social reform.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
There are two usual kinds of Third Reading debate. In one the Opposition congratulates the Minister on his skill in piloting the Bill through the House, on the generous way in which he has met the Opposition's request for reasonable Amendments, and thanks him for allowing the Opposition to make improvements in his Bill. This Third Reading debate cannot be one of that kind. The other main kind is one in which the Opposition stages a last-ditch fight against a Measure which it loathes. This cannot be a debate of that kind. It is somewhere in between the two.
I should like briefly to re-emphasise some of the points that we have been 1719 trying to make in these two days of debate. We should have liked more time to improve the Bill. We should have liked more time to discuss the anomalies behind the whole problem of National Insurance. I hope that we shall get a proper opportunity of discussing the questions, very early in the New Year, on which we have only touched. The immediate problems of old age, the gravity of some of the anomalies that have been revealed in these brief debates, are problems that cannot wait long for solution.
My second observation is that the Bill is six months late. The Third Reading should have taken place in June, and round about this time we should be celebrating, not the Third Reading of the Bill, but the first payments to the old-age pensioners of money which the whole House very early in the year agreed was rightfully their due.
Even in the two days in which we have debated the Bill we could have improved it. We have asked the Minister to make concessions. Even just before the Third Reading we were making a last appeal to the Minister to give us a minor concession. He has given us nothing. I must be fair. The one real concession that has been made is that he has promised that the National Insurance Advisory Committee will look into the really serious problem of the widows and we can expect some consideration of poor widows early in the New Year.
The Bill should be considered side by side with what the Minister is doing to National Insurance. The fundamental fault of the Bill is that it does not give the greatest help to the people in greatest need. The people in greatest need among the old folk are the old folk who are getting National Assistance. In May, every Member of the House will be approached byold folk in his constituency. They will say "I have been given an increase under the new Act "—as it will be then—" in my basic pension and National Assistance has taken 5s. of it away."
That is because the basic pension has been increased by much more than we are increasing the National Assistance benefit. It is all very well to attempt to explain to old persons next May, as hon. Members will attempt, that although 1720 we stepped up National Assistance by only half-a-crown—
§ Dr. King
I am sorry, Sir. I am trying to make clear what will he the reaction of the poorest old-age pensioners to the actual increases they will get compared with what is in the Bill. They will be apparently losing some of it at the moment the first payments are made.
Since I cannot pursue this topic, I welcome what the Bill is proposing to do for the old folk in five months' time. I spend, as other hon. Members do, some portion of Christmas and the New Year Recess visiting old folks' clubs in my part of the country. Old folk ask for very little. They shame the younger generation by their gratitude, courage, and cheerfulness. I wish that hon. Members visiting Darby and Joan clubs this Christmas could say not only, "Your increased pensions are coming somewhere in the New Year" but "The first payment of the new pensions is coming this Christmas time."
The other serious criticism of the Bill concerns the problem of who is to pay for most of the increased benefits. Most of the new money is coming from the workers and the employers. I sometimes suspect that the reason for the delay over bringing forward this Bill was not uncertainty of the Minister or the Government about by how much they should raise the old-age pensions, for that was made clear by our debates early this year, but how much they could charge the worker and employers.
The Bill is bad in that it is making the contributions to be borne by workers and employers a heavier burden than they ought to be, and especially a burden on the lowest-paid workers, and even on the 10s. widows. Seeing a Tory Minister piloting a pensions Bill through the House, one cannot help feeling that the Socialist movement is steadily permeating the Tory Party. I wonder what Keir Hardie would have said had someone told him that one day a Tory Minister of Pensions would introduce a Bill of this kind, or that there would be Tories administering, one by one, the Ministries of the great Welfare State which we are building thanks to a half century of Socialist advocacy.
1721 We on this side of the House can justly claim that we have spurred the Government throughout the year to do something for the old-age pensioners. It is still our duty to spur the Government to speed up payment in the New Year. I believe that members of the administrative machine will respond to appeals to them to speed preparation of the machinery for payment of the new pensions. They will work with a will if only the Government give the right lead; and if the Minister will personally convey to his staff that he earnestly wants the pensions paid earlier than the date which he has mentioned in the House. I am sure they will respond.
§ 11.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I have listened to nearly every speech in the debate and on nearly every Amendment which has been moved. I, too, am impressed by the fact that a Conservative Government now recognise that the Welfare State is an integral part of the British Constitution. I am old enough to remember the first debates on old-age pensions in this House in the time of a Liberal Government. I remember that when the first meagre old-age pensions were brought in by Mr. Asquith's Government, members of the party opposite opposed them on the ground that they would discourage thrift.
I congratulate the party opposite on having at last introduced this Bill, and I do not wish to oppose the Third Reading. I would, however, say that the Bill ought to have been introduced earlier. It ought to have been brought in last year. I believe that it is only the pressure of public opinion in the country, and of public opinion expressed through the Opposition here, that has made the Government decide to rush through, at the last moment, this slap-dash measure.
Of course, we welcome any improvement in the status of the old-age pensioner, although I should have liked to see a more generous Bill. The fact remains that the country expected to see the provisions of the Bill in the Chancellor's Budget. The Bill has taken its place at the end of the queue. It is being rushed through by Christmas. The Government could have faced the various problems which have arisen if they had given the same priority to social insurance as they gave to commercial television and other subjects which had first place in the queue.
1722 It is only at the last hour of almost the last day before Christmas that the Bill has been rushed through. When we examine the way in which the money is to be collected for the pensions we see that the Measure is a hotch-potch of anomalies which will become more and more obvious as time goes on. I refer not only to old-age pensions but to the part of the Bill which vitally affects my own constituents, the industrial injuries section.
It is shameful that the Minister has allowed only £1 7s. 3d. a week for special hardship for miners who are crippled in giving their best to the country. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) remarked during the early stages of the Bill that the Minister was a bad Minister and a bad man. I thought that was rather uncharitable but as I listened to the debate about industrial injuries I came to the conclusion that my hon. Friend was not too uncharitable and that he was right in his strictures. It is shocking to think that all that this House can give to a miner whose back has been broken while working in the industry is a special allowance of £1 7s. 3d. and that the Minister rejected the comparatively small sum of £2 a week.
We know that there is an electioneering purpose behind the Bill. We are told that it had to be delayed so long because the Government had to wait for the Phillips Report and the Report of the Actuary. We know that is so much eyewash and whitewash. We know that as time goes on the position will be exposed. The people will see that the Opposition—especially the unofficial Opposition below the Gangway—has done its duty by criticising every detail, a course it proposes to follow in respect of every piece of legislation that comes along. If the Opposition, of which we still regard ourselves as a loyal part, fails, we shall not.
When old-age pensioners realise the very large numbers who are not affected by the Bill, and the hundreds of thousands who will merely get paltry additions when they expect justice, we shall enter an era of disillusionment. When it is apparent that, instead of facing the position, as it should have been faced, by making the Exchequer pay its part of the bill, the Government are juggling with the rate of contributions, the country will realise that the opposition to the 1723 Bill has been justified, that we have tried our best to be helpful at every stage, and that our constructive criticism has been rejected by a hard-hearted, niggardly Minister, and a Government, who do not realise the extent of the social problem with which they are faced.
§ 11.20 p.m.
§ Miss Herbison
I have always been interested in these matters, not only in industrial insurance but in the whole field of insurance, since, like other hon. Members on these benches, I represent many industrial workers. I would not have the presumption to say that mine is the only voice of protest.
During the Second Reading and Committee stages of the Bill, my hon. Friends have shown clearly their disappointment at many parts of the Measure. Time after time my hon. Friends have shown forcibly how disappointed they have been by what the Minister has called a great social Measure. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that I deprecate his division of what he calls the unofficial Opposition below the Gangway from the rest of the Opposition.
§ Miss Herbison
What I am referring to is the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, in regard to a Bill on which Members on this side of the House have put up the strongest fight. One should consider all the Amendments that have been put on the Paper by hon. Members on this side—the hon. Members who had done a great deal of work and planning in connection with this subject before the Bill reached the Committee stage. I esteem my hon. Friends, for having worked overtime on this vital matter, in which we are extremely interested.
We feel strongly that in the financing of this Measure the Minister has taken the meanest way out. He has put the burden of paying for increased benefits on the shoulders of those who are least able to bear it. Many of us have felt for a long time that the lowest wage-earners are carrying a heavier burden of insurance contributions than they are 1724 able to bear; yet these are the people who are to be asked to pay another 1s. a week contribution.
We have heard from the Government of great prosperity and increased production, although I would point out that increase in production has been much less than it was under the Labour Government. Surely these lower wage-earners have the right to benefit from this increased production. This Bill shows quite clearly that the Government have no intention of giving to the worse-off section of our people a chance of benefiting from the prosperity which they have played a great part in producing.
We have been blackmailed into hurrying this Bill through. We have brought out as forcibly as possible in the short time at our disposal our objections to this Bill, but we have also felt that, because the old people are going to benefit, we should do our best to help the Government to get the Bill through. There is still a long part of this winter to come, and I know in my constituency many old people who are really on the verge of destitution.
It seems heartless and completely wrong that the Government should say they cannot, administratively, give to these old people before April the increase to which this Bill will entitle them. If something had to be done for the defence of this country we would not be asked to wait until April to bring it about. What we can do, quite rightly, for the defence of our country we have the same onus on us to do for the old people. I beg of the Minister—who, I feel sure, will have the support of those who take part in the administration of this Measure—to give the increases to the old people as early as possible in the New Year. It is not a great increase, but at least it will take them from the verge of destitution.
§ 11.26 p.m.
§ Mr. McKay
I am sorry to have to intervene, but we have sat here late at night on much more trivial matters than this Bill. After all our efforts to amend the Bill we shall pass it unanimously, but what is important is what the general discussion has brought out. Has it brought out any new points to guide us in future? I think it has.
When we speak of the cost of living in relation to old-age pensioners the cost of 1725 coal is often mentioned, and in future, when considering Bills such as this, we shall have to have regard to the costs which we are placing on the extractive and transport industries. I know something about the mining industry and I know that in the coal industry this contribution will amount to 2½d. or 3d. per ton. Whatever people may say about the cost of coal, this Bill will place a burden on the coal industry which it is scarcely able to bear. The same applies to the railways, which at the moment have difficulty in meeting reasonable claims by their employees.
Whilst industry generally may be in a prosperous condition, when we take a general view we are apt to forget that there are units which are not in the happy position generally obtaining. That is likely to continue, and we must try to get some scheme of insurance which would tend to put the responsibility and extra cost—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I would remind the hon. Member that the debate is limited to matters which are in the Bill and we cannot go beyond that on Third Reading.
§ Mr. McKay
I thought I should be in order in explaining the effect of the increased contributions. That is all I was trying to do, and I will leave that subject now, as I have indicated what I mean. We must try to stop the burden being put on big industries employing a tremendous number of people, and which are having difficulty in keeping their heads above water, and get whatever finances we can from sources which will not affect those industries.
I want to give credit also to the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward). We are not very good friends politically, but I like to give credit where it is due. The hon. Lady emphasised that while we are placing the extra burden of contributions upon the workers, the highest-paid workers will get nearly half their contribution returned to them by way of exemption from Income Tax. That is something to Which we are bound to give consideration in the future when we seek to solve the problem of making the highest-paid workers pay as much as the lower-paid workers. It is vital that when we consider these matters in the future they should be properly analysed.
1726 While we on this side of the House have all been prepared to help the Bill through, realising the necessity of the increased benefits for the people who are to get them, the Government have been too hard and fast in their attitude of suggesting that they know all about the subject and that their drafting and ideas were so perfect that no amendment to the Bill could be justified.
I was surprised that I did not have the support of lady Members when I raised the question of benefits for widows. The basis of the Bill alone shows that theirs is a case that should be recognised. When we asked for an increase for them in the same way—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is not in the Bill; therefore, we cannot discuss it now. I would ask the hon. Member to keep to what is in the Bill. That is all that is before the House at the moment.
§ Mr. McKay
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I regret that it is not in the Bill. I have not your experience, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to know always how to keep in order. The Government's general attitude on the small Amendments that we have suggested has not been satisfactory, and I do not think it has been fair to the people whom they represent.
§ 11.34 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) that it is not the fault of anyone on this side of the House that the Bill cannot receive the wholehearted approbation which we would have liked. The reason is that we have had in Charge of the Bill a Minister who has said "No" as many times as Mr. Molotov has said it. I doubt whether in the history of this House a Bill that was so important, affecting so many people, has made its way through Committee without the Minister accepting one single constructive Amendment from the Opposition. This might as well have been the Reichstag for all the influence our arguments have had.
The Minister has sat there immutable and immovable, refusing to make the least concession. I hope that when we introduce a Bill in the future, when we occupy those benches, we shall remember the attitude of hon. Members opposite, because it is quite obvious that 1727 this Conservative Government had made up their mind that they were not going to make any single concession to the Opposition.
Of course, the Minister does not appreciate the anger and the disappointment which there will be in this country next April. One million out of the 4 million pensioners are going to get little or no benefit out of this Bill after it has become law, and in a constituency like mine the proportion will be considerably higher than one in four.
After all, the folk aged 65 or over in Jarrow have gone through some lean and miserable years. Those folk were denied the right to work, and because they were denied that right they were also denied the ability to save. The lives of these people have always been haunted by poverty, and in April they will still face poverty because they are people receiving National Assistance, and they are not to get as much as others will get from this Bill.
What would it have cost if the Minister had agreed to give increased National Assistance benefits? It would have cost, so we have been told, about £27 million; or about 3d. in the £ of what we are spending on national defence. Poverty, as well as war, kills people; it kills just as guns kill people, and there are many lives cut short because of the anxiety and despair of a grinding poverty. Yet, with a miserable £27 million—and it is a miserable sum out of a total Budget of about £4,500 million a year—the Minister could have done so much.
He should be ashamed that he has not given to the people most desperately in need the same measure of help as others are to get. I hope that hon. Members on this side of the House will encourage the anger; I hope that they will conduct a campaign so that the Minister will have to give way and amend the Regulations in order that these people may get the justice to which they are entitled.
I share the disappointment which has been voiced about the Minister refusing to make this Bill operative before the date which he has announced. As I indicated last night, if this country were suddenly confronted with a war, that would entail the calling up of hundreds of thousands of people, and the billeting 1728 of many thousands of children. Would the administrative machine then take so long getting into operation that it would deny paybooks to men called up? Would it deny allowances to their wives? Would the people billeting the children in other districts find that those caring for the children were denied their fees?
Of course not. Everybody knows that there would be almost a general riot if such things happened. Where there is a will there is a way, and, if the Minister were well-intentioned, and determined, he could make this Bill operative much sooner that he is going to do.
I have been reading "Picture Post" this week—I believe it was "Picture Post," I may be wrong. However, I saw in that or another paper an account of the organisation of Littlewood's. I am not a pool fan, but Littlewood's could give the Minister a lesson or two in how to send out money quickly. That firm deals every week with millions of separate claims. Within 72 hours anyone who has any money coming receives it. I think it would be a sensible thing in these circumstances if the Minister would get in touch with the football pools and ask them about their administration and how efficiently they do their job. From them he might learn a lesson or two.
I am disappointed with that part of the Bill which deals with industrial injuries. I have never understood why it is that the ordinary man or woman working in industry, and who is crippled or maimed at work, has to pay, on top of a physical penalty, a financial penalty that is not universally applied. If a miner is injured, straight away his income drops. A civil servant who is injured does not have his income cut. He gets his salary month after month, even though an accident has befallen him.
I have never understood why there should be this discrimination in our society. The people most affected are the people who are most essential. Miners, steel-workers, transport workers. engineers—they are the foundation of our society. Others are only coping stones. Remove the miners and such workers and the whole edifice of our society will collapse. The civil servant, for one or two years after his accident, receives his full pay. So do many people employed in local government. Why miners, dockers, railwaymen, who meet with an 1729 accident in their employment are not entitled to enjoy their full wages, I do not know.
This Bill, which will improve, to some extent, the lot of some 4¼ million people, is not good enough. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North intimated, the country is booming. We are told the country has never been in better fettle, with profits up, exports up, production up, wages up, dividends up—
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I hope that the Minister will try to bring the Bill into operation sooner than he has said he can. If he does not—I repeat what I said last night—there will be many stories told round about 25th December about Mr. Scrooge. Unless the Minister is prepared to think again about the timing of the operation of these benefits, he may go down in political history as Mr. Scrooge of 1954.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
I shall not detain the House more than a few moments, but before the Bill is passed I wish to say how it neglects one class of people in this country, namely, the widows. My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) warned the Government that, although we welcome this inadequate Bill so far as it goes, there will be a terrible disillusionment in April. If my postbag is anything to go by, the disillusionment has begun already.
In the City of Dundee, which I have the honour to represent, we have more widows than in any other city in Scotland, and Dundee being a mill town, they are well able to speak for themselves. Already they are beginning to write, 1730 saying how much this Bill neglects their interests and betrays them.
We were glad to have a fairly sympathetic approach from the Minister yesterday to the question of the widows who receive only 10s., though I beg leave to doubt in the end how far the sort of ideas which the right hon. Gentleman seemed to have in his mind will meet their position. But the widows who receive 10s. do not look forward even in April—even after five months—to any increase in their present woefully inadequate 1925 pension.
In April, what will happen to them is that their condition, instead of being even a little better, will be actually worse. They will have to pay a larger contribution, and many of them are in only part-time occupations, in school kitchens, and so on. All the anomalies which apply to the widows of this country, which hon. Members in all parts of the House deplore, are being perpetuated in this Bill because the Government have delayed bringing it in for so long that, as my hon. Friends have said again and again, the House of Commons is being blackmailed into pushing through a Measure which perpetuates these anomalies. It would not be right if this Bill were to pass through the House of Commons without some attention being drawn to the glaring anomalies that are being continued in this Bill.
We on this side of the House can take some credit that we have acted as the vehicle of public opinion, and have at least prodded the Government into bringing in this Measure, however belatedly, and however much they are rushing it through. For that reason we give it a qualified welcome, but we issue a warning that these anomalies are being continued, and that the country will one day become aware of the price they are going to pay for these Conservative electoral tactics.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.